Wyoming Valley West did plenty of good things when it played Wallenpaupack earlier in the football season.
The Spartans, though, did a couple bad things. Stuff that proved costly.
Like fumbling inside the red zone, twice, including a turnover turned into a 96-yard TD return. Like having a special teams breakdown, allowing a 72-yard punt return touchdown for the decisive score.
Valley West (5-6) heads back to Wallenpaupack (5-5) — the scene of that 28-21 loss on Sept. 29 — in search of the District 2 Class 5A championship. Kickoff is 7 p.m. Thursday. The game is being played Thursday because of a Veterans’ Day program Friday night at the Wallenpaupack High School.
Valley West outgained the Buckhorns 376-201 and had a pair of 100-yard receivers — Darrian Tyson (9-100) and Jake Blaski (4-116) — yet four turnovers negated an otherwise solid effort. One fumble came at the Wallenpaupack 14-yard line late in the fourth quarter and after Ty Hobart’s punt return TD gave the Buckhorns their final touchdown.
“That’s really been the story of our year,” Valley West coach Pat Keating said. “We’ve been able to eliminate or minimize greatly the number of mistakes we’ve made early on in the year. We were in a pretty bad funk there for a while. That was kind of our theme. We were in every game right down to the wire, and things like that would go wrong.”
The Spartans fell to 1-5 after the loss, but won three of their next four to finish the regular season at 4-6. Still, the record meant Valley West finished the regular season with a losing record for the first time since ending up 1-8-1 in 1994.
The late surge corresponded with a shift in the offense. Valley West ran the ball 67 percent of the time while going 1-5. The percentage jumped to 83 over the final four regular season games. Sometimes the Spartans entered those games with the idea of running the ball. Other times, the flow dictated less passing.
“I think it’s a little bit of both,” Keating said. “We always want to control the line of scrimmage. As some games develop, we have a lot of success with that. We made some tweaks to our line up front offensively. The biggest thing again is compared to the beginning of the year we were making a lot of mistakes whether it was lining up wrong or penalties or shifts or different things like that.
“We were constantly putting ourselves in a hole I don’t know how many times in the beginning of the year.”
Running back Sean Mikovitch has been the benefactor. He had three 200-yard games over the final four regular-season games. The Spartans ran the ball 41 times and passes on just six plays in a 63-14 semifinal win over defending champion Abington Heights.
The defense did its part with six turnovers, including three interceptions by Jake Blaski. He and Suliaman Ismail returned picks for touchdowns. The Spartans have recorded 16 turnovers in their last five games after having five though their first six contests.
Wallenpaupack hasn’t won or lost two games in a row this season. Running back Joe Ingulli is the main threat with 1,090 yards and nine TDs on the ground. He had 33 yards on 10 carries in the previous meeting.